Reasonable Doubt



Can we apply the judicial standard of Reasonable Doubt to the existence of God? Maybe, and I’ll attempt to explain how. I’ve thought about this for a long time and although I an not a lawyer, I find this standard to be applicable here. It’s used mainly in criminal cases where a judge instructs the jury at the end of the trial that if any juror has reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant, then they must vote for acquittal.

I actually sat on a criminal jury once. It was a case concerning the sale of cocaine to a police informant. The police, wanting to get this drug dealer off the street, had set up a sting with their informant. Later, the now defendant was arrested and finally placed on trial.

The prosecution had no problem presenting evidence that the defendant was in fact a drug dealer. Where they had a problem was in proving that the same person committed this crime: selling cocaine to the police informant.

I was one of 2 jurors that went into the jury room after the trial saying I could not vote for conviction based on the evidence presented. Remember, the defendant was not on trial for being a drug dealer, but for this specific crime.  Three days later, we wrote a note to the judge explaining that there was no way we could come to a verdict one way or the other.  Yes, it was declared a mistrial (it ended 6-6).

The concept of reasonable doubt is very subjective and depends on the individual juror to use his or her own standards of reason to determine whether or not the evidence is sufficient for conviction.

I think this same standard could be applied as to the existence of God. Note that in criminal trials both the prosecution and defense want the jurors making the decision to be fair; to not hold an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

In this thought experiment, the trial I think would be judged by those that claim to be agnostic, having no opinion positive or negative. The judge of course whoever he or she is, is independent and is only there to ensure the rules of evidence are applied fairly. The prosecution, in this case, would be those that affirm existence. As in a criminal trial, it’s their responsibility to prove that yes, God does exist. Of course the defense would be those that say no to that question.

If the jury were truly unbiased as to the proposition (and that’s exactly what prosecutors do, try to convince the jury of their proposition) then how would this jury find? Of course I’m already biased and would never be chosen to sit on a jury like this but I’d have to think it’s possible that the jury might come back in favor of the defense.

Every argument I’ve ever heard from a believer as to the existence of God, has never passed the test of (beyond) a reasonable doubt.

But jurors, even though they take an oath to be objective are not sometimes. The case mentioned above, there was one juror who was the daughter of a retired police officer and had a bias in favor the police, as we found out in the jury room. Another was so vehemently against drugs he might have given the death penalty if that were a choice.

The same would be an issue with this experiment for both sides. Is the jury truly objective and without bias one way or the other? Could there ever be a completely unbiased group that when presented with all of the evidence on either side of the question of existence, ever come up with a verdict?

I’d like to think so but I have my doubts. There are some people, no matter their protestations about being unbiased on this question, would not be able to view all of the evidence without some sort of inherent bias toward one side or the other.

Addendum: I have no idea if the person I mentioned above was ever retried  and either convicted or acquitted. I think any reasonable jury would have at minimum, presented with the same evidence, come to the same conclusion we did.

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